You may not be familiar with the term “dark patterns”, but the phenomenon of manipulative design is ubiquitous in the apps and services we use every day.
Dark patterns encourage consumers to make decisions that enrich businesses, usually at their own expense. This can look like misleading wording that leads to someone signing off their personal information, or like a hidden button that leads to a re-subscription that they would probably prefer to unsubscribe.
If you come across a sketchy dark pattern design, you can now report it on Darkpatternstipline.org, a specialty website hosted by Consumer Reports. The new betting line is a joint project by EFF, PEN America, Consumer Reports and Access Now, including advocates of digital rights.
Gathering reports of dark patterns is an effort that might now actually have teeth thanks to new laws targeting manipulative design practice.
In March, California changed its landmark data protection act, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), to ban dark patterns in tech’s own backyard. “These safeguards ensure that consumers are not confused or misled when they try to exercise their privacy rights,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra of the new regulations.
Even Congress is concerned about dark patterns. In 2019, a bipartisan bill called the DETOUR Act attempted to ban user interfaces for large companies with more than 100 million users, “to obscure, undermine or impair user autonomy”. While this legislation got nowhere, compulsive design decisions are one of the many concerns lawmakers have on their radar when trying to enforce new federal regulations for large tech companies.
It is a priority for the makers of Tip Line to report concerns to regulators as they shape technology policy. “If we want to stop dark patterns on the internet and beyond, we must first evaluate what is out there and then use those examples to influence policymakers and lawmakers,” said EFF designer Shirin Mori.
“We hope that the Dark Patterns Tip Line will help us create fairer, more equitable, and more accessible technology products and services for all.”